Changing Habits

How to find what motivates you (and use it time and again)

what motivates us
wrote this on April 10, 2014
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I published a post a few weeks ago talking about unconscious motives and how they can either supply us with heaps of motivation or sap it away. In a comment I was asked (by Brett) if I had tips for people in search of their personal unconscious motives.

And as a matter of fact, I do. First of all, let’s begin by explaining what unconscious motives…

Unconscious motives refers to hidden or unknown desires that we harbor and are the real reasons for things we do.  The term was first coined by Sigmund Freud who hypothesized that things we do are driven by unconscious motives, he also said that:

“The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.”

I.E. what we’re aware of is only a small fraction of what’s going on beneath the surface and what really motivates might be buried somewhere in our unconscious mind.

Although Freud’s theory was criticized later and there’s quite the debate around the validity of his claims; on some things his hypothesis hit the mark and modern psychology supports them to this day.

  1. We do know today that we are influenced by things that we’re unaware of.
  2. Those things can change our perception of events.
  3. And we might not act rationally sometimes due to this bug in the system which might result in a self-destructive behavior.

Since we’re not always immediately aware of everything, to find out what really motivates us, we’ll have to spend some time alone and test a few theories…

Let’s delve deeper and find out what happens beneath your surface

Your mind is like an iceberg

Abraham Maslow said that unconscious motives have a huge effect on how people behave. He said that any action is understood by analyzing the need it satisfies or fail to satisfy. If you don’t understand what motivates you, you’ll need to become more mindful of your actions, environment and feelings and the best way to do so is to focus on the now!

“I can feel guilty about the past, Apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” Abraham Maslow

Do a little “mindfulness research” and find out what motivates you by practicing mindfulness actively.  Doing so while you feel exhilarated, you’ll find your answers faster.

The way I practice mindfulness is by paying attention on purpose in the present moment to what I’m feeling and experiencing in a nonjudgmental way that allows me to identify why I’m motivated and what caused it.  Change your mind-set to focus and analyze on the present, rather than trying to look back and recalling past feelings and events.

What motivates you?

Knowing what motivates us in any given situation allows us to identify the trigger quicker and, more importantly, use it in the future to fuel our motivation again and again.

We are motivated mainly by reward, but what is reward? Reward in two dimensions can be defined as Extrinsic and Intrinsic.

There are several things that can motivate you intrinsically like:

  • Learning a new skill or overcoming a challenge.
  • Curiosity and having that curiosity satisfied.
  • A sense of control over our own body and behavior regardless of environment
  • Comparing our own performance to others and winning in our own set criteria
  • Helping other people also motivates us and makes you feel good.
  • Receiving recognition for our actions and accomplishments.

Extrinsic reward, on the other hand, is an element or behavior that motivates us externally, e.g., money.

Several studies showed that offering excessive external rewards for an already internally rewarding behavior can actually lead to a reduction in intrinsic motivation for instance, a phenomenon known as the over justification effect.  As a rule, you should always strive to find what motivates you intrinsically.

On the other hand, extrinsic motivation can create interest in areas that we were not previously interested in. So the general rule of thumb is to use extrinsic motivation mostly when we’re not interested intrinsically.

Dominant sub-conscious motivators

David McLelland, a great psychological theorist identified three major unconscious motivators, the need for achievement, the need for affiliation and the need for power.

1# Achievements

Motivation via Achievements

Our need to achieve derives from our desire for significant accomplishment, e.g., mastering a new skill, gaining more control, or achieving a high standard in certain activities in our lives.

The higher our need to achieve, the more difficult tasks we’ll undertake.  Over-achievers will always raise the bar trying to better themselves with each accomplishment while people who regard themselves as non-achievers will set the bar low to achieve the things they want without taking a risk of failure.

Are you high achiever?

According to McClelland, the following determines your level of achievement motivation:

  • Your ability to take risks – if you take big risk, you aim at higher rewards.
  • The tasks and projects complexity level – the more complex your actions, the higher you’re trying to reach.
  • Your level of responsibility – Do you avoid responsibility or seek it?

2# Affiliation


We all have a need for affiliation. The need for affiliation is a term that was coined by David McClelland and describes a person’s need to belong to a group which he can affiliate himself to and create a sense of involvement.

This means that hanging out with other people, expressing our feelings and getting our environment approval is critical for us to gain motivation. If you’re motivated by affiliation, you’re often friendly and work best when you feel appreciated in a work environment that gives you an opportunity for interaction.

There are other points to consider.  We, often, want to be affiliated with the “right people” and we want the outside world to hold us in high regard due to our affiliation with said group.  Couple that with the fact that we want to be a center piece in that group wilding authority and influence over its members….is it worth the effort? Yes.

Find the group that you want to belong to and test the waters.  You don’t have to lead that group but you can definitely do what you can to strive to reach that position.  Those groups exist in your workplace, in clubs, online in social forums, etc.

#3 Power

Power as a motivator

If your need for affiliation is derived mostly from a need to be influential, then you probably get motivated by power and not from affiliation (or both, but alas power trumps affiliation).

You feel a strong need to lead and you want your ideas to be accepted. You are driven by raising your personal status and are concerned about things such as prestige. If all of the above is true, then you’re definitely motivated by power. According to David McClelland there are two kinds of power, social and personal.

On the social level, if you’ll get more engaged in problem solving and decision making, you’ll be able to satisfy and develop your motivation because it’ll gives you influence over what you do and over your work environment.

On the personal level, if you’ll develop your mind and body, and you’ll ultimately be able to sway people to adopt your perspective, your need for power on the personal level will be satisfied.

To summarize all of the above, we all have things that motivate us from within that we’re not aware of; they’re called unconscious motives or intrinsic motives. The three most dominate motives are gaining achievements, affiliating ourselves with groups and gaining power.

If we want to be happy, we must explore our inner self and find out what motivates us through practicing mindfulness. So set a date with yourself, find out what motivates you, and leverage it.

Until we meet again!

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